Best Practices & How to Start a Group
Here are best practices for forming and sustaining groups, plus dealing with conflict as it arises.
- Check out these tips to help find group members.
- Ask people to fill out a questionnaire so you can get a feeling for interests and level of practice.
- Call each potential member for a short chat. You learn a lot that doesn’t fit in the questionnaire and you can scope out potential co-facilitators if you need one.
- Make sure everyone reads The Kalyana Mitta Guidelines and can commit to them before joining the group.
- Go over the Guidelines and highlight key points at the first meeting.
- Give people tips about practicing wise speech in meetings, e.g. Gregory Kramer’s article about Insight Dialogue.
- Collect photos of members with a few sentences about each person and distribute them to the other members of the group. It helps link names, faces, backgrounds, and can also be used (with permission) for orientation when a new member checks out or joins the group.
- Adopt a Confidentiality Agreement that members feel comfortable with.
- Save at least 5 minutes at the end of each meeting for processing. Facilitators can model how to do this for beginning practitioners - people are often reluctant to speak up when something is bothering them and they need support.
- New members will want to try out the group once or twice to see if it feels like a fit for them. After attending two sessions (or whatever number feels appropriate for your group) ask the new member to make a 6 month commitment to attending as regularly as possible.
- Help members learn how to support one another from a dharma perspective. Often people come to these groups looking for spiritual friendship, but they don’t know how to create it. Or they have an unrealistic vision of what this is.
- Practice speaking/acting honestly with wisdom, compassion and acceptance. Avoid criticism.
- Mindfully and kindly enforce the Guidelines and Confidentiality Agreement.
- Model wise speech.
- Keep meetings punctual and regularly scheduled so a rhythm develops.
- Guide members who are learning how to “check-out” or process issues that come up in the meetings.
- The facilitator’s job is to create a safe space for people to hear their own wisdom, not to teach.
- Distribute organizational and leadership responsibilities among members as much as possible if it’s a peer-led group—this creates buy-in and opportunities to practice in different ways.
- Encourage members to bring concerns to the whole group rather than talking about them outside the group.
- The facilitator is responsible for the whole group; don’t take sides.
- Ask members to reexamine their commitment and intentions towards the group and recommit at regular intervals. Consider a written Group Commitment so expectations are clear.
- Keep bringing the focus back to the dharma. It’s easy for members to fall into old habits of group interaction, especially when stressed.
- If members are forgetting or disregarding group agreements:
- Post a short list of key Guidelines and Confidentiality Agreements at the meetings where everyone can see them.
- Talk to problematic people individually.
- Ask a member to reexamine his/her intentions and commitment to this group.
- Ask the whole group to reexamine their intentions and commitment to the group and do a re-commitment if they can do so whole-heartedly.
- Set time limits on individual sharing so no one dominates the discussion and signal “over-time” when people run over.
- Speak to members individually if they’ve got problems with the group that don’t get resolved in meetings and decide if the facilitator needs to take a more active role.
- Remember the facilitator is responsible for the whole group. If the group isn’t working out for someone (or they’re not working out for the rest of the group), don’t be afraid to tell them it’s not a match.
- Exercise compassion for yourself as a Facilitator—there are times when group members are hurt, delusional, or in need of support beyond the scope of the group and painful decisions must be made about people who look to the group for unconditional acceptance. Equanimity is key.
- Ask for support from the KM coordinators when needed.